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V/A - The Minimal Wave Tapes, Vol. 1

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Artist: V/A

Album: The Minimal Wave Tapes, Vol. 1

Label: Stones Throw

Review date: Jun. 16, 2010

Brooklyn DJ Veronica Vasicka has been reissuing obscure early 1980s DIY synth records on her own Minimal Wave label for the past five years, and now Peanut Butter Wolf and Stones Throw have thrown their considerable weight behind her by releasing this exceptional compilation of some of her greatest discoveries. While a few of these artists — Philly band Crash Course In Science and Spain’s Esplendor Geometrico — have had their material reissued in extremely limited and pricey box sets on the Vinyl-On-Demand label, most of the groups on this comp haven’t had much exposure outside of their own self-released LPs and cassettes, and Vasicka’s DJ sets, podcasts and vinyl reissues.

The international group of artists that Vasicka categorizes as "Minimal Wave" (others might simply call it "minimal synth") all share the same basic musical elements: analog synths, drum machines and vocals. Aside from the killer solo on Das Kabinette’s "The Cabinet," I couldn’t pick out a single guitar or other "traditional" instrument on the record. These are all bands that embraced the relatively cheap home recording technologies that were just starting to become available in the early ‘80s, which is not to say that their music sounds "cheap" in any way. To the contrary, there’s a stark beauty and simplicity to these tracks. The constantly panning kick drums and washes of sound on "Flying Turns" by Crash Course In Science, for example, are totally breathtaking.

Minimal Wave can be dark and brooding, but much of the music selected for this collection is dancefloor friendly and some of the songs are downright catchy. You could play Deux’s "Game & Performance" or "Radiance" by Oppenheimer Analysis right after "Tainted Love" and I doubt anyone would bat an eyelash. Various other moments on the collection call to mind OMD, the early recordings of the Human League (as heard on the great collection The Golden Hour of the Future), The Normal’s absolute classic "Warm Leatherette," and certainly "Hot On The Heels Of Love" by Throbbing Gristle.

If that sounds appealing to you, then, like me, you’ll most likely find yourself listening to The Minimal Wave Tapes and, like me, thinking that this comp is just about as good as it gets.

By Rob Hatch-Miller

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